Teachers can load the literary canon

23rd February 2007 at 00:00
The argument over the literary canon is back on the front pages (TES, February 16). But this is not a genuine debate about literary merit. For every "great" put in, there is a Wilkie Collins or a Henry James left out.

And this is not an argument about "Britishness", however many politicians feel that dubious concept may be embodied in classic texts.

For English teachers, at the heart of this argument are issues of autonomy and professional trust. They want children to become powerful users of language and lovers of literature for life. As experts, they have the skill to achieve these aims, and the ability to select appropriate material for our classes to work towards these goals.

At a time when the Department for Education and Skills and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority are talking about giving back decision-making in curriculum design to teachers, and in the drive towards "personalised learning", an arbitrary list of authors is perverse.

In itself, a spat about the canon is trivial, but symptomatic of the wider issue. English teachers should be trusted to make the decisions about curriculum and assessment that best suit pupils' needs, free from political interference.

Simon Gibbons

Chair, National Association for the Teaching of English 9-14 committee, Sheffield

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